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Parents of Amazon CEO donate $12 million to Catholic school


Courtesy of Salesianum School

John Burger - published on 06/23/21

Miguel Bezos honors memory of priest who mentored him as a Cuban immigrant in the 1960s.
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The parents of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have made a $12 million gift to a Catholic high school in Delaware.

Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who married Jeff Bezos’ mother after she divorced, pledged the money to the Salesianum School in Wilmington, Delaware, where he graduated in 1963.

“We have been blessed in significant ways,” Miguel Bezos said in a statement. “One of them, very early on in my refugee life, was to have arrived at Salesianum School and to be part of Casa de Sales where I was surrounded by other young refugees going through the same scary experience.”

Bezos came to the United States from Cuba as part of the U.S. State Department’s Operation Pedro Pan. Also known as Operation Peter Pan, it was a clandestine mass exodus of thousands of unaccompanied Cuban minors ages 6 to 18 to the United States from 1960 to 1962. The youngsters’ parents sent them because they had heard rumors that Fidel Castro and the Communist party were planning to terminate parental rights and place minors in communist indoctrination centers.

Salesianum took in 21 boys from Pedro Pan, housing them in a new residence they called Casa de Sales. The Casa was run by Fr. James P. Byrne, a priest of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the religious order that founded the school. [He is pictured above in a file photo with Jacklyn and Miguel Bezos.]

Jeff Bezos was born to Jacklyn and Theodore Jørgenson in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1964, but his parents divorced when he was still a toddler. In 1968, Jacklyn married Miguel Bezos, who adopted Jeff and changed his surname to Bezos.

Ten million dollars of the Bezos’ gift is being given to immediately establish the Rev. James P. Byrne, OSFS Scholarship, which will fund 24 full-need students. In addition to receiving a full-tuition scholarship, Fr. Byrne Scholars will also receive funding for the incidental expenses that so often form barriers for students on the margins, including books, retreats, service trips, AP test fees, prom tickets, etc.

“Father Byrne, who died in 2020, was the embodiment of our patron’s gentle strength,” a statement from the school said, referring to St. Francis de Sales. “His ministry as surrogate parent, teacher and friend is credited with helping dozens of Casa residents become successful students and — eventually — citizens through his guidance, discipline and love.  It was an audacious undertaking; it was also the right thing to do.”

Matching gifts

The school’s statement referred to the decision to take the Pedro Pan students as one that aligned closely with Salesianum’s mission and ethos to help those in need.

Said Miguel Bezos, “The impact that Father Byrne had on me, as well as on the rest of us at Casa, has lasted a lifetime. To be able to recognize his commitment as a priest, teacher, mentor, and missionary, is a great joy for us. We hope that those who knew Father Byrne and those who identify with Salesianum’s mission will join us in creating opportunities for more students with a variety of backgrounds to attend Salesianum and further enrich the student experience.”

In addition to the Fr. Byrne Scholarship, Miguel and his wife, Jacklyn, will match commitments of $100,000 or more to the endowment over the next three years – up to $2 million – with a goal of inspiring others to provide access to a Salesianum education by establishing scholarships of their own.

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